As parents we have very unique and particular opinions of our own children. As we know our children so well, we often view our children very differently to how others may view our children. Our children also may behave very differently in different contexts and when they are around different people.
Some parents see their children through ‘rose-coloured’ glasses and choose to see only the good things their children do and are in complete denial of anything their children do that is less than perfect. These parents make constant excuses for their children, blame others (including themselves) for their children’s mistakes and won’t allow their children to accept responsibility for their choices and actions.
Other parents can go the other way and can be overly critical of their children. They set goals and expectations for their children which may be unattainable, they can be critical of their children and they look for their children to make mistakes and get things wrong.
In some families parents view each of their children differently. I am sure we can all relate to the relationship that our own parents have with each of our siblings. It is very normal for siblings to believe that there is a favoured child who can do no wrong or the sibling who feels they can do nothing right in the eyes of their parents.
In my experience, the best approach lies somewhere in the middle of the two abovementioned parenting approaches as neither of these extremes is beneficial for a child’s healthy development. Positive parenting occurs when we are honest about our children, accept them for who they are, allow them to take responsibility for their words and actions and aren’t there waiting to rescue them when they fail or make a mistake.
Although it is a positive personality trait to see the good in others, as parents, this is only true when we have a realistic and balanced view of our children. Throughout my career, I have been astounded by the number of parents who have told me ‘Their child would never…’, even when the proof is there that their child did. All of our children will at some time make a choice or do something which we could never imagine; all children will do something which may embarrass and mortify us; all children will lie to save themselves or their friends. Although disappointing and frustrating when this happens, it is a very normal part of life for a teenager. Teenagers need to be allowed to make mistakes and poor choices so that they grow into more responsible young adults. This is OK for teenagers. What isn’t OK is when parents make excuses for their children, deny their poor choices, blame others, and even lie to cover for their children.
When our children make these mistakes the way that we as parents handle the situation models for our children what they should do when things go wrong. If we deflect, blame others and cover up our children’s mistakes this is how they learn to deal with mistakes in the future. On the other hand, if we acknowledge the mistake, let them accept the consequences and treat the mistake as an opportunity to grow and learn this is how our children will learn to become a better and improved person.
It is human nature for parents to want to protect their children and this can be a basic human instinct. It is often far harder to allow our children to accept the consequences for their actions as our natural response is to rescue and protect them.
So, as we move into the summer holidays and our children have more free time to socialise with their friends, there is a greater possibility that they will make some poor choices and mistakes. My advice is firstly don’t say they would never and secondly allow them to accept responsibility for their thoughts and actions, even though it may cause you pain to do so.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Hemphill is the Head of High School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.